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THE SITUATION ROOM

Mystery of Malaysia Flight 370; 20K Russian Troops Massing Near Ukraine Border

Aired March 21, 2014 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a SITUATION ROOM special report, breaking news on the mystery of Malaysia Flight 370, the search.

New efforts are about to get under way as daylight breaks in the target area. I will talk to a U.S. Navy commander overseeing part of this massive operation.

Final communications. A transcript emerges of the latest exchanges between the cockpit crew and ground control. Will it reveal new clues? .

Zombie flight. We're digging deeper into one of the more chilling scenarios. Was the plane flying for hours with everyone on board incapacitated?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And we're following breaking news of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Among the latest, we expect the airborne search for the plane to resume at any moment now, with daylight breaking in the Indian Ocean off western Australia. Australian officials say six planes will be taking part today. Also, Britain's "Telegraph" newspaper has obtained what it says is a transcript of the final 54 minutes of communication between the cockpit and air traffic controllers on the ground. And Malaysian officials are now asking the Pentagon to provide underwater surveillance equipment to help with the search.

CNN is dedicating its global resources to this story and our correspondents and analysts, they are working all angles right now.

Let's get more now on that alleged transcript that's emerged of communications between the cockpit and air traffic controllers.

Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is working this part of the story.

What are you finding out?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we finally got our hands on the transcript. We should tell you that it was first in English, then translated to Mandarin, and then back into English. So all the wording here may not be exact.

But we can tell you usually air traffic control tells the pilots when to push back, when to taxi to the runway and when to take off. And the pilot communicates the plane's altitude. And now after reviewing the transcript of the 54-minute conversation between one of the pilots of Flight 370 and air traffic control, the newspaper said nothing stood out that would suggest this plane would disappear.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A purported transcript that details what Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 told air traffic controllers from takeoff until it disappeared has been obtained by London's "Telegraph" newspaper.

"Air traffic control. This is MH370. Good morning,' one of the pilots says, a routine start. The conversations match with what Malaysian investigators and U.S. officials have told CNN that, that the recordings indicated a normal fight.

"This is MH370, flight altitude 350," he radios, indicating where the plane was cruising. "The Telegraph" says the radio calls were slightly casual, but gave no sign the plane was about to disappear.

At 1:07 a.m., a message saying that the plane was at 35,000 feet, a potentially odd sign identified by the paper, because that same communication had already been given six minutes earlier. At 1:19 a.m., Malaysian authorities say the co-pilot makes his final transmission to air traffic control, "All right, good night."

Two minutes later, the transponder that helps air traffic controllers track the plane goes off. Flight 370 has not been heard from or seen since.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: We should tell you the newspaper says that they have asked Malaysia Airlines as well as the civil aviation authority to confirm the transcripts were authentic, but the prime minister's office would only say that they wouldn't release that data.

This transcript doesn't tell us what went wrong on that plane, but at the very least, it answers the question of in these minutes leading up to when this plane disappeared, did the pilots say anything that may indicate something was wrong in the cockpit? Judging from this, really, we don't see anything that really stands out.

BLITZER: And as you point out, it's interesting that originally they spoke in English, this is a translation into Mandarin Chinese, but now it's been retranslated back into English, so you could lose something in that re-translation.

All right, Rene, thanks very much.

American investigators say they found evidence of deleted files on the pilot's computer even closer to the final flight date than initially thought.

CNN's Pamela Brown is working this part of the story for us.

What's going on here, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials have been combing through that hard drive for two days now, and so far they're not jumping to any conclusions about the pilots, Wolf, but sources tell CNN investigators have uncovered evidence that files from those hard drives were deleted more recently than previously disclosed by Malaysian officials.

And tonight we're learning experts from the FBI as well as outside consultants are now working around the clock to uncover not just what was deleted, but how it may have been erased.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Sources tell CNN the FBI wants to know if the captain, seen right here in front of his computer flight simulator, simply deleted files on his simulator's hard drive or if he went further, using more sophisticated methods to scrub the files from the device.

Malaysian authorities had said the files were deleted February 3, but now CNN has learned U.S. investigators have uncovered evidence files were deleted even after that, closer to the plane's final flight two weeks ago.

BRYAN CUNNINGHAM, CYBER-SECURITY EXPERT: Was information deleted in ways that weren't routine? They would probably have a pretty good sense of the level of sophistication of the pilot. Did they use a lot of encryption?

BROWN: And sources tell CNN investigators aren't just interested in files from 53-year-old's Zaharie Shah's simulator software. Instead, analyst at the FBI lab in Quantico are apparently combing through other data on his laptop, as well as the hard drive taken from the home of his co-pilot, 27-year-old Fariq Hamid.

CUNNINGHAM: Unless you're extremely sophisticated and you spend a lot of time and effort, there's going to be fragments of your information left on your hard drive that a qualified expert can find.

BROWN: CNN has learned investigators want to look at information such as browser history, visit to chat rooms, or even online research for life insurance policies, anything still on the drive that could help them build a profile of the men who were flying Flight 370.

CUNNINGHAM: Did they go, for example, to a map that shows all the air field more than 5,000-feet capable in the region? Did they test out different routes, not just on the simulator, but with satellite?

BROWN: Meantime, today Malaysian officials confirming there may be one other key piece of information that could open a window into the final moments before the Malaysia Airlines 777 left Kuala Lumpur, admitting in a press conference that they're investigating reports of a cell phone call made from the cockpit just minutes before takeoff.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Wolf, U.S. investigators have compiled profiles of the two pilots based on interviews with friends, neighbors and family members conducted by Malaysian investigators along with a search of their online activities, and so far sources telling CNN's Evan Perez that they have turned up nothing that would suggest any explanation for the plane's disappearance.

And as one of my sources told me, there's nothing to run on yet to suggest otherwise.

BLITZER: They have got a lot of work to do, obviously still not done. Pamela, thanks very much.

We're also new learning details about the search about to get under way at any moment now in the Indian Ocean, including which planes will and will not be taking part today.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, we're hearing that the U.S. P-8, that Poseidon, the highly sophisticated surveillance flight, is not going to fly today. Tell us why.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the crew's been working hard, the plane has been working hard, and this has now been going on so long, all of the aircraft from all of the countries participating are going to need to take some time off, a day off for crew rest and routine maintenance. That's what the P-8 is up to on this latest effort to find the debris at sunrise in Australia, which is just about now.

But there are going to be a number of other aircraft going out, four military aircraft from various countries and, quite interesting, we're hearing two commercial long-range jetliners, with observers on board, also going out, all eyeballs, all technology, everything they have got looking at the surface of the ocean to try and find debris, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're also hearing, Barbara, that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had a second conversation today with his Malaysian counterparts. What is he asking for and will the U.S. give it to the Malaysians?

STARR: No promises yet from the Pentagon, that's the message here tonight, Wolf.

The Malaysian minister spoke to Hagel for about 30 minutes. There was a discussion. The Malaysians would like what they're referring to as undersea surveillance technology. They want two capabilities essentially. They want some acoustic capabilities, thing they can put in the water to listen for the black boxes, the data recorders, if you will, and also undersea salvage technology once they locate the wreckage and they want the technology to go after it.

But, Wolf, there's a couple of issues here. This is some of the most sophisticated, most classified technology the U.S. Navy has. They may not even be able to legally share it. The Malaysians may not have a platform, a ship or an airplane to send down to the Indian Ocean to put this on. And the U.S. Navy may not have the assets, the ship or the airplane to give them to go out in the future days and weeks ahead to look for it all..

So a long way to go. The Malaysians want it. Hagel now has assembled a high-tech team to look at what the Pentagon has and what is possible, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thank you.

Let's get some more now on the airborne search.

CNN's Kyung Lah is in Perth, Australia. That's on the west coast of Australia.

It's just getting daylight. Kyung, have any planes actually taken off yet?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't have any confirmation that the planes have taken off. But our full expectation is if day one or day two are any indication, it's right now, the exact time of daybreak, that the planes, that very first plane takes off.

So what is going to be taking to the air today? There's going to be three Australian planes, the P-3 Orions taking to the air, there's going to be one New Zealand plane as well as those two civilian planes that Barbara was talking about. They're going to fly from this air base, four hours away. They're going to circle for two hours above that area, the military here telling us they want to try to clear 36,000 square kilometers.

That is more than yesterday. They're trying to flood the zone, Wolf, and they want to try to clear as much sea as possible and then try to bring all those men and women back safely.

BLITZER: What about the weather on this day?

LAH: The weather today, at least here, is markedly better than yesterday. Yesterday, we were hit by some extreme weather, almost hurricane-force winds, rain. It's much better today.

Clear skies, there isn't that much wind. As far as weather down there, it is pretty good, from what we understand. Yesterday, they had very, very good conditions, the conditions very critical, especially when you have spotters in those civilian planes, because they're going to use their eyes to see if they can see anything floating in the water.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah reporting to us from Perth, Australia, thank you. Let's bring in our panel right now. Joining us, Michael Schmidt of "The New York Times," our aviation analyst, the former NTSB Managing Director Peter Goelz, our CNN law enforcement analyst, the former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes.

Let me start with you, Tom, because you heard Evan Perez reporting a little while ago that his conversation with U.S. counterterrorism officials say in these first two weeks they have seen nothing that would indicate terrorism, if you will. So based on that deductive logic, if you will, they're increasingly thinking this could have been some sort of accident, or catastrophic failure, or maybe even pilot suicide, something along those lines?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, I can understand why they would think that and want to come to a conclusion that it's not terrorism.

BLITZER: They haven't come to a formal conclusion. This is their thinking right now.

FUENTES: What they're thinking isn't as important as what the person who committed the act of moving that airplane to the South Indian Ocean. What that person was thinking, we don't know that yet.

We will have an indication from computer searches, phone records, and other conversations with friends, colleagues, relatives. But we have had terrorism cases where none -- even best friends didn't know that a friend or colleague was about to commit a terrorist act or an unusual violent act. We just don't know what we don't know.

BLITZER: Your instinct has been from the beginning, Peter, that this is likely human being that was responsible, for whatever reason, for this terrible situation?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Once it became clear that there was a controlled turn and almost a reversal of course, I have zeroed in, it had to be a human in the cockpit, we don't know what his motives or her motives were, but that's where it's going to be headed.

BLITZER: Michael Schmidt of "The New York Times," what are you hearing?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": In the day after the plane went missing, they were pretty concerned that it was terrorism because they didn't know a lot.

There was a plane missing. They hadn't investigated that much and they were pretty concerned. But as they dug in and they looked back, a whether there was chatter leading up, actually -- that stuff at the NSA that we all talk about -- they go back into that, and they see whether anyone was talking about anything like this in the time running up to it.

They looked in their databases, they did interviews, they did link analysis based on the manifests. They did all this and they came back and they said, look, we can't find anything that leads us to believe it was terrorism. And if it was, this is a new paradigm, this is something we have never seen before.

BLITZER: So, it's a whole new world. But we have seen situations where there are whole new worlds.

Guys, hold on for a minute.

I want to go back to Perth, Australia.

Joining us from Perth, Australia, once again is Geoffrey Thomas, and he's editor in chief and managing director of AirlineRatings.com.

Are you hearing anything over there, your investigation that's going on, Geoffrey, whether this is more inclined to be a human being responsible for this or some sort of mechanical failure?

GEOFFREY THOMAS, AIRLINERATINGS.COM: Look, Wolf, we're hearing the human being element.

As was just mentioned, this plane, we know has made several turns, several changes in altitude. This wasn't in the FMC, the flight management computer, on its Beijing mission. So this has to be human intervention.

And there's also an interesting too with the co-pilot signing off. He signed off, "All right, good night." That's not normal sign- off. He should have said, MH370, contact Ho Chi Minh center, 12.1 good night.

He should have read back what air traffic control told him. He just said "All right, good night." Maybe that was a coded message saying I'm not all right. I don't know. It's one of the many mysteries of this extraordinary disappearance.

BLITZER: The British newspaper, "The Telegraph," as you know, Geoffrey, they have published what they say is the transcript of those 54 minutes of communications between air traffic controllers on the ground and the cockpit crew, the co-pilot in this particular case.

What we have seen is an English retranslation from the Mandarin and original conversation was in English. What are you hearing about this transcript?

THOMAS: Wolf, I have yet to see the exact transcript. All I know about is the last sign-off. And that was certainly not by ICAO protocol, it was slack at best, too casual if you like, or was it a coded message?

BLITZER: Let me ask Peter Goelz.

What do you think?

GOELZ: Well, we have looked at it. And we think is not any way in ICAO standard language.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Tell our viewers what ICAO is.

GOELZ: Well, ICAO is the International Civil Aviation Organization, 199 members.

It governs international flight. There are treaties that everyone has signed that governs how aircraft move from one country's airspace to another, how these kinds of investigations are conducted.

BLITZER: You want to weigh in on that, Tom? Because it's pretty extraordinary. The newspaper got a hold of this retranslation from the English to the Mandarin back to the English. The Malaysians aren't releasing this. Shouldn't they be releasing this kind of -- at least the transcript, if not the actual audio? They have recorded the 54 minutes of audio conversations between co-pilot and ground control.

FUENTES: Right. You would want to hear the actual voices.

Obviously, the language of aviation is English. You would be hearing this in English between the tower and the pilots. And you would be able to maybe pick up stress or some deviation in the way they say it. But the problem with this transcript is that if it's a translation of a translation, you know, the wording matters, because pilots use certain key phrases when they refer to going to a runway or departing, you know, the airspace or coming to try to find the next controllers at Ho Chi Minh Airport and their airspace.

What we don't know is, if this is absolutely what the pilot or co-pilot said on the radio, were they sending a veiled message, as suggested, that things aren't all right, this isn't abnormal and pay attention to us, or is it just bad translation of the transcript?

BLITZER: You want to weigh in.

GOELZ: Yes, one more thing, the FAA routinely makes tower tapes after an accident available, usually within 72 hours. The tower tapes are not protected like the voice recorder.

BLITZER: Let me ask Geoffrey. You're there in Perth, Australia. You cover this. Why aren't the Malaysians releasing this kind of information?

THOMAS: Look, Wolf, that's a very good question, and add that to the long list of a lot of questions that everybody is asking of the Malaysians.

Why didn't they tell us about the transponder turning off at the time it did? Why didn't they tell us about the ACARS turning off when it did? The whole aviation community would have taken a very, very different view of this particular disappearance had that information been released when they knew, which was March 8, March 9, not one week later. There's lots and lots of questions that the Malaysians have got to answer. And that just is another one to add to the list.

BLITZER: Is there any indication, Geoffrey, that the Malaysians reacted to that casual sign-off, which as you point out was not really standard in this kind of communication? THOMAS: Look, there's no indication at all that they put any significance in it, not publicly to us.

But at the same time, I think behind the scenes, they're hopefully looking at this and trying to examine and trying to understand, as, suggested any stress in the voice of the pilots, but again, they haven't been forthcoming with that.

BLITZER: Do you have any idea, Michael, if the Malaysians have made available to U.S. law enforcement, to the FBI, the NTSB, the FAA, U.S. experts the actual audio of these 54 minutes?

SCHMIDT: I don't.

But what I do know is that the U.S. is sitting there and is listening to the folks in this room, in Malaysia, where information is coming in about the investigation. The U.S. is obviously not playing a role, but they're getting some of the information from there. But I think the whole way the investigation has been handled speaks to an interesting part of it. It's that the Malaysians really had no experience with anything like this.

They didn't have the infrastructure investigative wise that we do here in the United States. And they have been thrust of that. And now everyone is paying attention to every little thing they do. And they're completely unprepared.

And they have no idea how to do it. That's why we're seeing all these stories go back and forth, why aren't they bringing things out? It allows folks like these to raise questions about it. I think that's probably one of the biggest problems.

BLITZER: Tom, you worked with the Malaysians when you were at the FBI. We have repeatedly asked for a Malaysian government person or someone from the Malaysia Airlines to talk to us and to explain and give some answers to some of these questions.

They obviously have a little news conference every day, they tell us what they want to tell us, they are some questions, some Q&A. But they're really holding back a lot and it's not clear why.

FUENTES: Wolf, I have worked with the Malaysian Air Force. And they're outstanding. Their top echelon have been trained here in the U.S. at the FBI Academy in Quantico through executive courses.

You know, they're very good. The FBI has worked for more than a decade on Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist groups, al Qaeda-related terrorist groups. The 9/11 hijackers had a summit meeting in K.L. before 9/11, so they have been very effective and very successful and very cooperative with the FBI.

But now when we throw in minister of transportation and civil aviation and defense department, that's a whole new thing, that's not the police by themselves. That's this overarching aviation part of the investigation involving the technical experts from not just their country, but NTSB, FAA, as well as British, French, other Chinese experts. and that's where I see the confusion and the lack of being forthcoming.

BLITZER: Let me ask Geoffrey Thomas in Australia, final question,

Geoffrey, heard a very different tone from the prime minister of Australia today as opposed to yesterday. Yesterday, he sounded pretty upbeat that this could have been the best lead possible, the debris they found in the Indian Ocean on the satellite, the commercial satellite image.

Today, he's suggesting maybe it's sort of container that fell off a cargo ship. What's the latest in Australia? What do they think?

THOMAS: Wolf, I know Prime Minister Tony Abbott did mention a container.

In actual fact, this is too big for it be an actual container. This is 24 meters long, they don't get them that big. But I know he's trying to sort of temper expectations. He's wary of the hopes of the relatives in China and Malaysia.

But at the same time, we're hearing today that the Chinese are sending down from Malaysia, redeploying three more search aircraft to be based here at Perth. The Japanese I understand are also taking two Orions as well to help in the search.

So rather than scale back the search, if you take the prime minister's sort of watering down, if you will, they're actually amping up the search with more aircraft from more countries and of course we have more ships coming as well. If you look at the military response, the civil response on the ground and in the air and on the water, it's all positive.

More assets are being pushed into this search. I actually believe they're on to something and I believe that the intelligence they have got,, they haven't necessarily shared all of it with us. And I think they really strongly suspect the zone they're searching is where this plane may be.

BLITZER: All right, we will continue to stay in touch with you, Geoffrey Thomas in Australia. Thanks very much. Tom Fuentes, Peter Goelz, Michael Schmidt, thanks to you as well.

For more on how you can help in the effort to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, visit the crowdsourcing post at CNN.com/impact.

Still ahead, new information on the airborne search for the missing plane, and I will talk to a U.S. Navy commander. He's in Perth, Australia, right now, helping oversee this effort.

And we will go live to Beijing, where the nightmare is now entering it's third week for so many of the passengers' families.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our North American viewers, by the way, "CROSSFIRE" won't be seen tonight so we can bring you more of our special report on the mystery of Flight 370.

And we're following the breaking news, airborne search operation about to resume any moment now, with a total of six planes searching the Indian Ocean for any sign of Malaysia Flight 370.

We're joined now on the phone by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Adam Schantz. He's in Perth, Australia, overseeing operations from the ground.

Commander, thanks very much for joining us.

What's the latest, first of all, on the search? Has the U.S. started moving new assets into the Indian Ocean? What's going on?

LT. CMDR. ADAM SCHANTZ, U.S. NAVY: Sir, we're still working. We're flying just about every day. We're putting our crews out in the search area. They're doing their jobs and we're doing our best to contribute to the overall search effort.

BLITZER: Have you found, have you seen anything yet?

SCHANTZ: We have not, but we don't consider that a failure. We're eliminating areas every day and concentrating efforts in new places.

BLITZER: We have heard, Commander, that the U.S. P-8, the Poseidon, the new surveillance plane, won't be flying today; is that right?

SCHANTZ: That is a true statement, sir.

We are taking the day -- not flying today. We have prescribed crew rest limitations, so we're giving the crew off today. We coordinate this ahead of time through the Australian Rescue Information Center.

And it's taken in as part of the overall search plan and air tasking order.

BLITZER: What about the smaller P-3s, the Orion? Are you going to be flying one of those today?

SCHANTZ: We're not, sir. The U.S. only has the signal P-8 here.

BLITZER: You just have a P-8. You don't have any Orions. So that -- Australia, Japan, other countries will be searching this -- this area in the southern Indian Ocean, but the U.S. is not involved. What about other naval vessels, anything like that? Any ships involved?

SCHANTZ: There are at least two civilian ships out there working. I understand there are several different military ships from different nations inbound to the area that may be there at this point. Then we will be back on station tomorrow morning, about -- we should be taking off about right at daylight tomorrow morning to go out and continue the search. BLITZER: Did you actually personally fly over this area in the Indian Ocean, Commander?

SCHANTZ: I didn't. A did a bunch of the flights up in Malaysia. And down here, I'm managing it and everything from the beach.

BLITZER: What was it like when you were flying those first few days, because at the time, everyone thought it was in the -- in a totally different area. But it looks like those first six days, that entire search was a waste of time. How frustrating is that?

SCHANTZ: I wouldn't say that it's a waste of time. We were given areas to go search. And we went out, and we were able to determine that there wasn't anything there on the surface for us to find. Again, that allowed the folks who coordinate the search effort to concentrate resources in other areas.

BLITZER: A few days ago, I was pretty upset when I heard that U.S. aircraft based in Kuala Lumpur were not actually taking off, because Indonesia -- not Malaysia, Indonesia -- refused to give those U.S. planes permission to fly through their air space. Has that been -- has that been cleaned up?

SCHANTZ: Sir, I don't have any details on that. I probably can't comment on that one.

BLITZER: All in all, are you confident that this -- this airliner is going to be found, Commander?

SCHANTZ: Sir, I would say if the -- if there's any bits of this aircraft on the surface of the ocean, that we will find it.

BLITZER: Adam Schantz is the lieutenant commander for the U.S. Navy. He's in Perth, Australia right now. Commander, good luck to you, all the men and women of the U.S. Navy, all the others who are involved in this search. We hope you find -- you have some success soon, thank you.

Flight 370 was scheduled to land in Beijing at about this time exactly two weeks ago, and its failure to arrive has set off a nightmare with no end in sight.

Let's go to Beijing right now. CNN's David McKenzie is standing by. David, senior officials finally made it to Beijing today to brief families. How did that go?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it went well, because families have been asking for this for several days, in fact weeks now, Wolf, as you know. And they got their answers, some of them at least, that they wanted. They were given a very detailed description of the search effort and what clues that might be out there.

Interesting, the families asked very pointed questions about the information that's coming through and also any scenarios that might suggest that their loved ones were alive. They asked many questions about whether there are uninhabited islands near that search area where people might have ended up. So certainly, they're still clinging onto hope in this saga.

There was some withering criticism of Tony Abbott, the prime minister of Australia, for getting everyone interested in this current lead. But he said that what they need to give is any information as it comes out so those families can have real-time information as they search for this mysterious plane that vanished.

BLITZER: The Chinese have pretty dramatically increased their own involvement in this massive search. What's going on in this part of the story?

MCKENZIE: Well, they really are doing a huge effort on the search, Wolf, and they want to make sure that everyone knows about it. They have put out 21 satellites, they say. They have several warships heading towards the southern ocean to help the Australians and others with that search.

They've also scrambled, as it were, an ice breaker from where it was on its way to Antarctica to do research. They're moving that, the Snow Dragon, with a skeleton crew to the area to help other merchant vessels in the search in terms of having kind of human assets on the water to look.

So China has been frustrated with the Malaysian response because they can't go in there and run the show. There is a lot of suspicion of southeast Asian countries' capacity at times here in China. So they want to show very much in China to the domestic audience that they're doing what they can to find this plane.

BLITZER: David McKenzie, joining us from Beijing. David, thank you.

Up next, disaster delays, we'll take a closer look at the problems that have plagued the search for Flight 370 from the moment it disappeared.

Plus more on the new transcripts of the plane's final 54 minutes of communications with ground controls.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: From the beginning, this search for Malaysia Flight 370 has been marked by delays, with critical information trickling out days after the plane disappeared. Our senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is here with more.

Joe, how unusual is this?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Unusual, Wolf. This is all about the time that was lost while search crews may have been looking in the wrong place. Malaysian officials waited for days before switching the focus area of the search, and they said they were waiting for expert analysis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS (voice-over): Within hours after Flight 370 vanished, Malaysian officials had radar data telling them the plane had flown on for nearly six more hours after it left Malaysian air space. And yet the Malaysian government organized massive international search effort that lasted a full week, contrary to what the radar data told them. Today, Malaysian officials explained why they waited, as they tried to reach a consensus about the satellite data.

AZHARUDDIN ABDUL RAHMAN, DIRECTOR, MALAYSIAN DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL AVIATION: From the flight we had scheduled from the communication with the pilot, ATC and pilot, we have not come to any conclusions.

JOHNS: Wednesday, March 12 is when the Malaysian government says it got the raw satellite data from Inmarsat. The Malaysian minister of defense says his country consulted U.S. officials recognized by many as the best in the world.

RAHMAN: So the U.S. teams and the investigation teams of Malaysia, they send us e-mails about what's needed for our use (ph).

JOHNS: Thursday the 13th, Malaysia says initial results came back, but it was agreed by the U.S. team and the investigations team that further refinement was needed, so the data was sent back to the U.S. again.

Friday the 14th, Malaysia says the results were received about 2:30 in the afternoon and presented at a high level meeting where the U.S., the U.K. and others processing the information concurred.

Saturday the 15th, the Malaysian prime minister was briefed on the results and publicly announced them at a news conference.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: It then flew in a westerly direction back over the Peninsula of Malaysia before turning northwest.

JOHNS: Experts agree that it's hard to analyze the kind of satellite data that Malaysian officials got from Inmarsat. But even if there was an inkling of a different route for the plane, the prudent move would have been to scramble the search teams as soon as possible.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: If they had an indication of where this possibly could have gone in, we should have had assets on it absolutely as soon as possible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Another area where Malaysian officials have been pressed for answers is on communications with the cockpit. A pilot in a triple-7 flying 340 minutes ahead of MH-370 reported making emergency contact and said he heard mumbling, static and interference on the other end, according to a Malaysian newspaper's Web site. So far no word from Malaysian officials on what to make of that.

BLITZER: That's a disturbing development, as well. All right. Thanks very much, Joe Johns, for that.

Let's dig deeper right now with CNN's Richard Quest. He's joining us from New York.

So why has there been so much confusion from the Malaysians, Richard? You know them. You were just in Kuala Lumpur. You actually flew on one of those -- those planes with the co-pilot in this particular case. What's going on here?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't think there has been confusion, Wolf. I'm going to take a contrarian view here. I think what you're looking at is an investigation that has been, at this point, relatively thorough.

We would all be excoriating the Malaysians if they had diverted resources to the Indian Ocean for those pings to be proved to be untrue.

What they got here, Wolf, was data from Inmarsat on the 12th. The Americans and the Brits were part of the analysis on the 13th. They said, "We need more data. We're not happy with what we've got." It went back to the Americans and the Brits, and by the 15th, you get, "Yes, we all agree."

Now, if you're going to start moving ships from the South China Sea all the way down to the western coast of Australia, you better be sure in what you're doing. So I'm not defending the Malaysians, but I am saying they seem to be damned if they do and damned if they didn't.

BLITZER: Because the first six days now, even though the suspicion is the Malaysians knew more than they were letting us know, that whole search the first six days was a waste.

QUEST: With hindsight, yes, it was a waste. But at the time, if you remember, let's go -- let's not be too clever with hindsight. Go back to what we saw. We knew there were pings. We knew there was a big arc to the north, and we knew there was an arc to the south.

But the Malaysians handed over the raw data. When Inmarsat first gave them the data, they gave them an analysis, and they needed the raw data. They finally got the raw data, not Malaysian security data, Inmarsat data. And they handed it to the Americans, and the Americans said, quite -- the Americans said, "We need to redo the tests."

So I'm left wondering what more would people have wanted the Malaysians to do at that point? They were forming a protocol of an investigation that says you better be -- you better have credible reasons to do what you're about to do.

BLITZER: All right. Richard, stand by. We're going to continue our analysis. Coming up, much more of the breaking news, the mystery of Flight 370, with the kind of coverage you'll find only here on CNN, including this: new information on the final 54 minutes of communication between air traffic control and the cockpit of Flight 370. What clues could a newly-released transcript hold?

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QUEST: With hindsight, yes, it was a waste. But at the time, if you remember, let's not be too clever with hindsight, let's go back to what we saw -- we knew there were pings. We knew there was a big arc to the north and we knew there was an arc to the south.

But the Malaysians handed over the raw data. When Inmarsat first gave them the data, they gave them analysis. They then needed the raw data. They finally got the raw data, not Malaysian security data, Inmarsat data.

And they handed it to the Americans, and the Americans said twice the Americans said -- we need to redo the tests.

So I'm left wondering what more would people have wanted the Malaysians to do at that point? They were following the protocol of an investigation that says you better be -- you better have credible reasons to do what you're about to do.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Richard, stand by, we're going to continue our analysis.

Coming up, much more of the breaking news, the mystery of Flight 370, with the kind of coverage you'll find only here on CNN. Including this, new information on the final 54 minutes of communication between air traffic control and the cockpit of Flight 370. What clues could a newly released transcript hold?

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BLITZER: Following all the breaking details this hour, including what's being revealed by the final 54 minutes from the cockpit.

Richard Quest is back with us from New York.

Richard, "The Telegraph", the daily newspaper in London, they have released this transcript. It's a little strange because it's an English, but it's a translation from Mandarin Chinese, and the original conversation was in English.

So, you've had a chance to go through this 54 minutes. Anything suspicious standing out in your mind?

QUEST: No, not at all. The focus of attention has been the fact that there's -- I looked at my screen, forgive me while I get to exactly the bit we're talking about.

One particular point they say, it's about one minute past the hour. He says, "This is Malaysia 370, flight altitude 350." In other words, 35,000 feet. And then a couple of moments, six minutes later pilot, we assume it's Fariq Hamid, who was the pilot flying, the pilot not flying, he says, "Malaysia 370 remaining in flight altitude, 350." In other words, he repeats the same thing six minutes later.

And the implication being, why would you do that? If you've just given information. It's meaningless in my view, Wolf. Either he forgot to do it or decided to do it again or he was distracted for a moment and he decided.

There's nothing in this, having read it, that's rings an alarm bell with me. If anything it's a very poor translation.

I'll give you one example, Wolf. When they are talking about getting on the runway, they have air traffic control saying, position 32 right, runway ready, permitted to take off. Good night.

Now, you know, the normal way of doing it, telling a flight they can take off is much more rigorous. You tell them the wind. You tell them the wind speed, the wind direction. You don't say runway ready.

So I'm assuming it's a really poor translation from what we're reading.

BLITZER: Yes, because other experts have said that "all right, good night" is way too informal especially when you're going from one air traffic controller in Malaysia to Vietnam.

QUEST: Right.

BLITZER: Yes, there's a whole procedure you're supposed to do and been subtle suggestions this co-pilot was sending a signal, sending a message, that may not have been picked up. But I think we're going to learn a lot more.

Richard, don't go too far away. Thank you very, very much.

Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, aboard the Navy's most powerful search tool, the elite P8 Poseidon.

We'll have more of CNN's breaking news coverage, "The Mystery of Flight 370", right after this.

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BLITZER: We'll return to our breaking news coverage of the mystery of Flight 370 in a moment.

But, first, this urgent story. The Obama administration expressing concern about what it sees as a potentially imminent Russian incursion into Ukraine. A source telling CNN the United States is closely monitoring Russian troops amassing on the Ukrainian border. Russia says troops are there for military exercises. But U.S. officials say there's reason to be skeptical.

Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is joining us from Crimea with the latest -- Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a day for tit-for-tat (AUDIO GAP) Vladimir Putin signing the final order that makes this now part of Russia in his mind but also Ukraine's new government signing paper work. It brings it closer to E.U., still very far off from being a member. But that vital step in many Ukrainians has been made, taking them westwards rather eastward, what started this whole process in the first place. Certainly here in Crimea, very little has actually practically changed. We went to one air base in Belbek where the commander there said he's still holding out, still obeying orders from Kiev. He said he hopes to hear something final tomorrow morning whether to stay or return to the Ukrainian mainland.

People watching, too, to see how these sanctions will impact upon the Russian government. They said today, Vladimir Putin, they weren't going to respond to tough measures from Barack Obama yesterday in kind, but, of course, the relationship deteriorating beyond recognition now. What's happening in Crimea is I think in many ways a done deal. All eyes on eastern Ukraine, 20,000 troops U.S. military officials say motorized, able to move very fast, amassing on the border there and the concern everybody still has ringing in their ears Russian officials say they reserve the right to protect who they refer to as compatriots, so Russians, ethnic Russians inside eastern Ukraine.

Still tense times ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.

Here's a recap of the very latest developments on the mysterious disappearance of Flight 370. Among the latest: Australian officials say six planes will scour the Indian Ocean about 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, looking for debris from the missing plane.

Also, Britain's telegraph newspaper has obtained what it says is a transcript of the final 54 minutes of communication between the cockpit and air traffic controllers. And the Pentagon says it's looking at what underwater surveillance equipment it can use to help with the search.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.